Conversational barriers effectively render a group homogenous and remove the benefits that diversity might have otherwise provided, even if the group is technically diverse.
This post was originally featured on ChiefExecutive.net
Imagine yourself in this scenario: You are not the company’s CEO, but rather a new team member who recently joined the organization. You’re sitting with a handful of colleagues in a conference room, your notes in front of you. You’ve thought about this particular project for days, and have a clear proposal for the team’s approach. You politely chime in—only to be cut off mid-sentence by one of your coworkers.
“Excuse me,” you try to interject, “But to return to my point…”
This time, a different coworker bulldozes over your attempted comments, preventing you from getting a word in edgewise. This trend continues for the rest of the meeting; eventually, you close your folder and stop talking. What’s the point if no one will listen?
Unfortunately, this kind of conversational exclusion is all too common for many women at work. As one female professional described in an article for the New York Times, “My female boss told me she needed to allow each man to interrupt her four times before protesting in a meeting. If she protested more often, there were problems.”
Research backs this anecdote. Studies have shown that women often feel uncomfortable speaking up in mixed-gender settings and are more than twice as likely to be interrupted during a group conversation than men, particularly if their industry is male-dominated.
One study conducted by sociologists at the University of Santa Barbara examined the link between gender and interruption by analyzing conversations between same-sex and mixed-gender groups. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that male conversationalists interrupt females far more than vice versa or in homogenous groups. The data that they reported, however, is startling: while the two same-gender groups only experienced a collective seven interruptions, the mixed-gender conversations saw a whopping 48 interruptions—46 of which were due to a male interrupting a female.